Russian Memorial for Space Dog Laika (Update)

by Ian O'Neill on April 11, 2008

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Laika statue outside a research facility in Moscow (AP Photo/RIA-Novosti, Alexei Nikolsky)
On Friday Russian officials unveiled a monument to Laika, the pioneering dog that led the way to manned spaceflight on November 3rd, 1957. Her little memorial is a model dog standing atop a rocket near a military research facility in Moscow. When she made the historic flight into space on board Sputnik II, very little was known about the effects of launch and zero-gravity on an animal and Laika wasn’t thought to make it. Due to her being so small and hardy, she made it into orbit, but this was a one way ticket, she had no idea there would be no coming home… be warned, this isn’t a happy tale

The dogs chosen for the Russian space program were usually stray mongrels as it was believed they could survive and adapt in harsh conditions. Also, small dogs were chosen as they could fit into the capsule and were light for launch. Two year old Laika was apparently chosen from the animal shelter in Moscow for her good looks. After all, the first Russian into space would need to be photogenic. There was intense excitement about her selection for participation in the space race and she endeared herself to scientists and the public; she was described as “quiet and charming”.

Laika before launch in 1957 (NASA)

Unfortunately Laika’s trip was far from humane. She had to wait for three days before launch locked inside the capsule whilst technical problems with the launch were fixed. Operators had to keep her warm by pumping hot air into her cockpit as the temperatures around the launch pad were freezing. Once the launch was successful, doctors were able to keep track of her heartbeat and her blood pressure. The official story was that her heartbeat was fast at the launch, but she calmed down and was able to eat a specially prepared meal in orbit.

There are mixed reports about what happened next, but the official Soviet version was that Laika was able to live in space for a week, and then she was euthanized remotely. However, after the Soviet Union collapsed, reports from mission scientists suggested that she only lived for a couple of days and was put down, or (most likely) the cabin overheated soon after orbital insertion, killing her within hours.

Laika before launch in 1957 (AP Photo/NASA)

Interestingly, scientists did not announce that she was to die in orbit until after she was launched. Sputnik II was not equipped with a re-entry system and the craft burned up in the atmosphere after 2,570 orbits on April 14th, 1958.

It is easy for us to look back on Laika’s journey distastefully, but in the days of the Cold War, there was huge pressure on scientists to produce results in the Soviet Union and the USA. Sending dogs and other “guinea pigs” (I wonder, have any actual Guinea Pigs been sent into space?) into orbit was the most viable means to understand the effects of space travel. Regardless, she paved the way for other orbiting dogs (to be safely returned this time) and by 1961, enough data had been gathered to send the first man into space: Yuri Gagarin.

Original source: Associated Press

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Hello! My name is Ian O'Neill and I've been writing for the Universe Today since December 2007. I am a solar physics doctor, but my space interests are wide-ranging. Since becoming a science writer I have been drawn to the more extreme astrophysics concepts (like black hole dynamics), high energy physics (getting excited about the LHC!) and general space colonization efforts. I am also heavily involved with the Mars Homestead project (run by the Mars Foundation), an international organization to advance our settlement concepts on Mars. I also run my own space physics blog: Astroengine.com, be sure to check it out!

Carl Rollberg April 12, 2008 at 6:29 AM

Where can I get a model of the memorial to Laika. if there is one? I love dogs and I think having that with my NASA mementos since this was the first known dog in Space as far as we on Earth know.

Mr. LAME April 12, 2008 at 3:09 AM

find ur russian wife today???
indeed
great past lame future
those sites should be banned !

wiston April 12, 2008 at 6:55 AM

Coolest dog in the universe !

tamer April 12, 2008 at 6:41 PM

….more like the luckiest dog in the Universe!

Lyn April 12, 2008 at 7:49 PM

Definitely not a lucky dog to have to be strapped into a hot capsule for three days and then to die of overheating in space. How scary that must have been for her.

We can only hope that her body gave out quickly, to spare her mind the suffering.

alokmohan April 12, 2008 at 10:51 PM

viva laika.

pantzov April 13, 2008 at 12:06 AM

the dog would have had no idea what was going on. it’s sad, but that’s just the way they they did things back then.

at least this dog gets some respect when so many other animals simply perished anonymously in failed tests.

wiston April 13, 2008 at 6:38 AM

Lyn would you kill a puppy for 2 million $ ?

Kevin M. April 13, 2008 at 8:54 AM

What is scarier is that there is some recorded radio evidence that the Soviets also sent undocumented people up there who never came down. But I guess no one will ever follow up on that, maybe it’s better not to ever turn over that rock.

Astrofiend (Syd, Aust) April 13, 2008 at 5:46 PM

“Kevin M. Says:
April 13th, 2008 at 8:54 am

What is scarier is that there is some recorded radio evidence that the Soviets also sent undocumented people up there who never came down.”

You can’t make a statement like that without backing it with at least one credible source. Sounds like a whack-job conspiracy theory to me, unless you can provide evidence to the contrary.

Brian April 13, 2008 at 10:33 PM

Wiston, that comment in no shape or form is appropriate for this site or any other. It was rude, distasteful, and offensive. If you have any sense, you will apologise for that statement and never post here again.

wiston April 14, 2008 at 5:18 AM

you are to serious take a happy pile !

wiston April 14, 2008 at 5:19 AM

I’m mean a pill not a pile =)

Scott B April 14, 2008 at 10:44 AM

You know, it’s sad…. But, if this was an American dog, people would be calling for the destruction of the Eisenhower library since he was president at this time. It’s awwwffuulllll. WAAAAHHHH!!! It was awful, but I’m glad to see that so many on this board do not have their head up their rear on this one. However, I will iterate (reiterate) that if this was an American dog, people in this ridiculously animal-loving country would still be flipping out about it. May Laika Rest in Peace. Cool dog. Great memorial. It’s the least the Russians can do 50 years later.

God April 14, 2008 at 1:38 PM

Volva walked on the moon in 1962. Never to return. After landing he barked ‘It’s a small woof for dog, but I can’t find a tree’. That’s why astronauts on the moon do the vulva.

John April 14, 2008 at 9:33 PM

Regardless if you think it was humane, Laika paved the way to space, and for that we should all be grateful for her sacrifice. Im sure if given the choice, she wouldn’t have it any other way. And as for those who think this was just awful, you need to reexamine your role in this world. We all sacrifice for the better of all. Even if it requires our lives. Why…because god wouldn’t want it any other way. God Bless you laika, may our father keep you safe, and thank you.

DaveM April 15, 2008 at 8:10 AM

Absolutely, John. I couldn’t have put it any better.

I’m sure that if Laika had had a choice between being strapped into a capsule and blasted into space before dieing due to heat exhaustion before finally being burnt up in an uncontrolled re-entry, or going for a walk in the park and fetching a stick, she would certainy have chosen the former – fully aware that she was helping the Soviet Space effort at the height of the cold war.

God bless her.

Brent April 15, 2008 at 9:04 AM

Let us name a bright happy star for the beautiful dog Laika who shines in our hearts for what the Russians did to her.

Ken April 15, 2008 at 4:15 PM

I’m all in favor of the space program but I took exception to the phrases “…we should all be grateful for her sacrifice.” and “We all sacrifice for the better of all.” since the dog wasn’t given the choice to volunteer to give her life in exchange for the advancement of space exploration.
But then I recognized that the two phrases, while misleading, are actually appropriate, since “sacrifice” also means the slaughtering of an animal in a ritualistic fashion in exchange for some preferential treatment or other benefit.
It would be more accurate to say “Laika was sacrificed…” than to say “Laika sacrificed herself…”. Maybe this is just semantics, but important semantics to be sure, in case someone ever tries to sacrifice you, for the better of all.

Monica April 19, 2008 at 4:40 PM

I agree with Brent…let’s name a star for her! Also, Ken, semantics are important. Laika wasn’t given the choice. Have you seen the movie “Apocolypto”?
Are you kidding me, DaveM? I’m sure she would have preferred a walk in the park over being tortured for the good of someone else…she probably came to trust the people preparing her for the mission, don’t you think? Just to be abandoned at the end. Dogs are so unselfish and loving. Then, like everything else human hands have to touch (especially ones with testosterone), beings other than human have to suffer. Don’t you know dog spelled backward is God?

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